Tens of millions of Americans will take to the roads and skies for holiday trips this weekend, possibly making Memorial Day 2023 the third busiest unofficial kickoff to summer on record.
That’s according to the AAA travel organization, which has projected that 42.3 million Americans (12.6% of the population) will travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend. The projection is an increase of 7% over 2022 traveler numbers—some 2.7 million more people and “a sign of a busy summer travel season ahead,” AAA stated in its annual Memorial Day travel report.
The numbers include some 241,000 Idahoans who are predicted to travel this weekend.
The Memorial Day travel period is defined as Thursday, May 25, through Monday, May 29.
“Memorial Day 2023 will likely be one for the record books,” said Doreen Loofburrow, senior vice president of travel for AAA Oregon/Idaho. “Despite inflation, more Americans are planning trips and booking them earlier. Air travel in particular is seeing a significant bump, even with higher airfare.”
AAA expects travel “will remain robust all summer long,” Loofburrow noted.
While nearly 88% of Memorial Day travelers are projected to drive to their destinations, air travel is predicted to exceed pre-pandemic levels, up 11% over last year, AAA stated. In all, 8% of Memorial Day travelers are expected to fly for the holiday.
AAA started tracking holiday travel in 2000. This year’s projected travel volume would lag only behind 2005 and 2019, AAA stated.
Travel dipped sharply during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with only 23.1 million Americans takings trips over the Memorial Day weekend.
With the anticipated busy summer, AAA is advising travelers to make their plans as early as possible. In the past, travelers might have been able to save when booking at the last minute, AAA stated, but that’s unlikely this year due to limited capacity.
“Flights, accommodations, rental cars, camping, tours, cruises and other activities are in high demand,” Loofburrow said, suggesting that people look at traveling on off-peak days and to places “off the beaten path.”
Top Memorial Day destinations
AAA booking data indicates that theme parks, big cities and beaches are the most popular Memorial Day destinations domestically and abroad, based on searches and bookings by members of AAA Oregon/Idaho. Top U.S. destinations include: Anaheim, California; Maui, Hawaii; Las Vegas, Nevada; Orlando, Florida; and Seattle, Washington.
International travel is surging, AAA stated, with bookings about 250% higher this holiday weekend compared to 2022. Applications for expedited passport services, visa services and international driving permits are up significantly this year, AAA reported. Top international destinations include Rome, London, Dublin, Paris and Vancouver.
Road trips most popular, air travel up
Most Memorial Day travelers will take a road trip, AAA stated. In all, 37.1 million Americans are projected to drive to their destinations, an increase of 6% over 2022—about 2 million more.
Despite the projected increase over last year, car travel this holiday weekend is expected to be shy of pre-pandemic numbers by about 500,000 travelers.
Air travel is expected to exceed pre-pandemic levels. Nearly 3.4 million travelers are expected to fly to their destinations this Memorial Day, an increase of 11% over last year, AAA stated. About 170,000 more people—a 5.4% increase—are projected to fly than in 2019, despite high ticket prices.
“This Memorial Day weekend could be the busiest at airports since 2005,” AAA stated.
AAA is reminding travelers that airlines have experienced problems ranging from pilot and staff shortages to delays caused by severe weather and mechanical issues. The issues have resulted in flight cancellations, which have been a recurring issue since air travel began to rebound after the pandemic.
About 4.4% of Memorial Day travelers are projected to travel by other modes, AAA reported, including cruise ships, buses and trains. The estimate adds up to 1.85 million people, up 20.6% over 2022.
Delays predicted during peak periods; gas prices are lower
INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, has predicted that drivers will encounter the longest travel delays before the holiday weekend, particularly during the afternoons on Thursday, May 25, and Friday, May 26, between about 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Delays on major roads could be two to three times longer than normal travel times, AAA stated, as holiday travelers mix with commuters.
“Traffic will be busier than usual throughout the Memorial Day holiday weekend, but knowing the best and worst times to drive can help you avoid major congestion,” said Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon/Idaho. “Avoid the peak times and try to avoid urban areas when traffic is heaviest. Whenever you go, expect it to take longer than usual to reach your destination.”
The best times to drive over the Memorial Day period are in the morning and late evening on Thursday and Friday, and before 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Though many roads will be busy, motorists will benefit from lower gas prices than a year ago, AAA reported. In a separate report issued Monday, AAA stated that Idaho’s average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.76, 12 cents per gallon more than a month ago but 87 cents less than a year ago.
The national average cost for a gallon of regular gas on Monday was $3.54, AAA reported, 13 cents less than a month ago and $1.05 less than a year ago.
Idaho ranked 10th on Monday among states with the highest gas prices, with California ($4.81), Hawaii ($4.75) and Arizona ($4.62) leading the list.
AAA data indicates that other travel costs are mixed this year.
Though the average lowest airfare for U.S. destinations is about the same as a year ago—coming in at $183 per ticket compared to $184 in 2022—airfares to top destinations are up about 40%, AAA reported.
AAA two-diamond hotel properties are charging about 2% more, with an average nightly rate of $204, AAA stated. AAA three-diamond properties are averaging $235 per night, down 8% compared to 2022.
Daily car rental rates have decreased 14% compared to last year, with the average lowest rate coming in at $86 per day, compared to $100 per day last year, AAA reported. A major factor in the drop is that rental-car companies have continued to build up their inventories after car shortages in 2021. ￼
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